#24 – The New Dystopias

Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Dr. Benjamin Stevens is a professor of classical studies who researches the relationship between the ancient/classical tradition and science fiction and fantasy. In this wide-ranging interview, we discuss what makes sci-fi distinctive, classicism and modernity, ancient aliens, and more. Dr. Steven's profile. Classical Traditions in Science Fiction, ed. by Brett Rogers and Benjamin Stevens. Dr. Steven's book recommendations: The Just City/Thessaly Trilogy by Jo Walton Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
  1. Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview
  2. #28 – Children's Sci-Fi in the New Wave
  3. #27 – Feminist Science Fiction
  4. Writer's History #2 – Kira Leigh Interview
  5. #26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire

In the New Wave, a new batch of dystopian stories appeared that reflected the newer concerns of the time. These were different from the classics like Nineteen Eighty-Four–more diverse, and very often more hopeful. In this episode, we explore the highlights of these stories.

Short story recommendation: “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut.

My essay on the classic dystopias.
Kurt Vonnegut on “Harrison Bergeron.”
Darryl Hattenhauer on “Harrison Bergeron.”
My analysis of Logan’s Run.

Other works discussed:
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Logan’s Run by William Francis Nolan and George Clayton Johnson

Check out this episode!

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Do the Demographics of Logan’s Run Make Sense?

Logan's Run.jpg

As a companion to this week’s episode of A Reader’s History of Science Fiction, I wanted to take a closer look at the science behind one of the books I’ll be talking about: Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.

In Logan’s Run, the world combats overpopulation by euthanizing everyone over the age of 21—a society completely by and for the youth. You may be thinking that number is wrong, but if you are, that’s probably because you’re thinking of the movie. In the movie, which is quite a bit better known, everyone is killed at 30 years old.

I want to take a look at the book, though, because a society where everyone is under 21 seems extreme and unworkable, even though they define adulthood to start at 14. But the really strange part is that Nolan and Johnson write that the youth massively dominated the world’s population before the revolution. As they write in the opening lines to the book:

The seeds of the Little War were planted in a restless summer during the mid-1960s, with sit-ins and student demonstrations as youth tested its strength. By the early 1970s, over 75 percent of the people living on Earth were under twenty-one years of age. The population continued to climb—and, with it, the youth percentage. In the 1980s, the figure was 79.7 percent. In the 1990s, 82.4 percent. In the year 2000,—critical mass.

Logan’s Run was published in 1967, when the fears of overpopulation were at their peak, and at the same time (at least in America), youth activism was becoming a major political force. Nolan and Grayson extrapolate this to suggest that the population boom of the 50s and 60s would lead to a massive rise in the youth population that would give them the power to take over the world.

…But 82.4%? Really?

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The Logic of “The Gordian Paradox”

In my recent short story, “The Gordian Paradox,” a human attempts to defeat an evil artificial intelligence with a logical paradox: “This sentence is false.” However, instead of getting the AI stuck in a loop, the evil AI and the good AI start arguing about the meaning of the paradox.

I realize this logic may not have made a whole lot of sense, especially as presented in the story, so I wanted to shed a bit more light on it.

Spoilers Below

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Posted in math, Science Fiction, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

#23 – Overpopulation and Environmental Collapse

Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Dr. Benjamin Stevens is a professor of classical studies who researches the relationship between the ancient/classical tradition and science fiction and fantasy. In this wide-ranging interview, we discuss what makes sci-fi distinctive, classicism and modernity, ancient aliens, and more. Dr. Steven's profile. Classical Traditions in Science Fiction, ed. by Brett Rogers and Benjamin Stevens. Dr. Steven's book recommendations: The Just City/Thessaly Trilogy by Jo Walton Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
  1. Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview
  2. #28 – Children's Sci-Fi in the New Wave
  3. #27 – Feminist Science Fiction
  4. Writer's History #2 – Kira Leigh Interview
  5. #26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire

In the 60s and 70s, awareness of environmental issues was rising, and that was reflected in the New Wave of science fiction. Of particular note were overpopulation and pollution (leading to widespread environmental collapse). In this episode, we explore the highlights of this subgenre.

Book recommendation: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Other books mentioned:
Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi interview on The Windup Girl

Check out this episode!

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The Gordian Paradox

A Short Story

“Duck!” Raven yelled, and Dave dropped to the floor. Two bullets whizzed over his head before she blocked the rest of them with her improvised shield. He didn’t know how she could stay ahead of the automated defenses for this long, but if she kept it up, they might have a chance. There were several precision gunshots from over his head, and the enemy fire stopped.

“Up!” Raven told him, pulling him up by his arm. “Through the door, forward sixteen, then left nine and stop.” The numbers were counting strides. Dave didn’t know how she could compute his stride length with such perfect accuracy, but it had worked so well up till now that he could do it blind. He ran to the spot she told him while she took care of the next obstacle.

It still wasn’t going to be easy. The evil supercomputer GOLIATH was well on its way to taking over the world. It had frozen just about every device connected to the Internet and issued an ultimatum to world leaders. Many military units were sufficiently insulated to mount a counterattack, but it wasn’t looking good. Their only hope was to stop the machine at the source. Hence why Dave was here.

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The Perseverance Rover Lands on Mars Tomorrow!

https://mars.nasa.gov/system/resources/detail_files/25468_PIA24345-web.jpg

Tomorrow is a big day in the world of planetary science. NASA’s Perseverance rover (formerly Mars 2020) will be landing on Mars at 3:55 PM EST.

This is something that brings back memories for me. Eight and a half years ago–in fact only a month before I started this blog–I watched the landing of the Curiosity rover at the Planetary Society’s Planetfest event in Pasadena. It was a massive and euphoric two-day event attended by luminaries from Bill Nye (CEO of the Planetary Society) on down.

Today, of course, we’re living in a very different world, and there are no massive celebrations for Perseverance (although the Kennedy Space Center is apparently holding an in-person event), but the landing is still going forward. Also, the rover’s name feels so much more meaningful than it did a year ago when it beat out my first choice of Ingenuity, (which happily was still given to the helicopter it carries).

As an aside, I still can’t get over the fact that we’re going to fly a helicopter on Mars in harsher conditions than anyone has ever flown a helicopter on Earth!

Perseverance is basically a Curiosity chassis with better instruments on it, including ground-penetrating radar, a test oxygen production system, an ultraviolet spectrometer capable of spotting organic compounds, and a sample return system (to be picked up by a future mission). Since it’s the same design, in order to land, it will need to do a repeat of Curiosity’s “Seven Minutes of Terror,” in a Rube Goldberg-esque process where it will be lowered on a cable from a rocket-powered crane.

That still sounds like something a ten-year-old would come up with, but it’s not; they’ve already done it once!

But this time, they have to do it while carrying 14% more weight, and on much rougher terrain. To do that, this will be the first camera-controlled automated landing of a spacecraft. It’s going to be a wild ride, and it’ll be streamed on NASA Live starting at 12:30 PM EST. Or if you want to keep up the tradition, you can check out the Planetary Society’s live stream starting at 2:30.

Godspeed to Perseverance. Here’s to the next step in the Final Frontier.

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#22 – Nuclear War

Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Dr. Benjamin Stevens is a professor of classical studies who researches the relationship between the ancient/classical tradition and science fiction and fantasy. In this wide-ranging interview, we discuss what makes sci-fi distinctive, classicism and modernity, ancient aliens, and more. Dr. Steven's profile. Classical Traditions in Science Fiction, ed. by Brett Rogers and Benjamin Stevens. Dr. Steven's book recommendations: The Just City/Thessaly Trilogy by Jo Walton Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
  1. Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview
  2. #28 – Children's Sci-Fi in the New Wave
  3. #27 – Feminist Science Fiction
  4. Writer's History #2 – Kira Leigh Interview
  5. #26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire

The Cold War brought with it new tales of nuclear war in science fiction, both in the early days of the 50s and 60s, and later, when fears began to rise again. In this episode, we look at the highlights of these stories and how they vary widely in how they address the consequences of nuclear war.

Book recommendation: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank.

The Office of Technology Assessment’s 1979 nuclear war study.

Other works mentioned:
On the Beach by Nevil Shute (un-recommended)
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Dr. Strangelove
Fail Safe
The
Postman by David Brin
The Day After
WarGames

Check out this episode!

Posted in A Reader's History of Science Fiction | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

TV Review: Cosmos: Possible Worlds

Cosmos Possible Worlds title card.jpg

Last fall, I posted about the newest season of Cosmos, “Possible Worlds.” That post only covered the first two episodes, since it was the premier night (on broadcast). I was going to update every couple weeks, but with all the chaos of the election season and November being the busiest month of the year in my line of work, it just never happened. Then, I was waiting for the last episodes so I could do the whole season, but they never aired.

Except they did. I didn’t figure out until weeks after the fact that they changed up the schedule on me. (Cough. Firefly. Cough.) Episodes 10, 11, and 13 were aired on Mondays instead of the usual Tuesdays, and I never heard about the change because I rarely watch TV outside of a few specific shows. It was especially confusing because Episode 12 still aired on a Tuesday. Something about holiday scheduling, maybe?

Anyway, after having watched the remaining episodes, I can finally post my review of Cosmos: Possible Worlds.

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#21 – Apocalypse How?

Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Dr. Benjamin Stevens is a professor of classical studies who researches the relationship between the ancient/classical tradition and science fiction and fantasy. In this wide-ranging interview, we discuss what makes sci-fi distinctive, classicism and modernity, ancient aliens, and more. Dr. Steven's profile. Classical Traditions in Science Fiction, ed. by Brett Rogers and Benjamin Stevens. Dr. Steven's book recommendations: The Just City/Thessaly Trilogy by Jo Walton Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
  1. Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview
  2. #28 – Children's Sci-Fi in the New Wave
  3. #27 – Feminist Science Fiction
  4. Writer's History #2 – Kira Leigh Interview
  5. #26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire

In the 1950s and 60s, disaster and apocalyptic stories became prominent. However, the earliest ones could get pretty weird. It this episode, we take a look at the fantastic apocalypses that gave way to more realistic ones later on.

Book recommendation: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.

Other books mentioned:
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The Wind from Nowhere by J. G. Ballard
The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard
The Burning World by J. G. Ballard
The Crystal World by J. G. Ballard

Check out this episode!

Posted in A Reader's History of Science Fiction | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Writer’s History #1 – Max Hawthorne Interview

Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Dr. Benjamin Stevens is a professor of classical studies who researches the relationship between the ancient/classical tradition and science fiction and fantasy. In this wide-ranging interview, we discuss what makes sci-fi distinctive, classicism and modernity, ancient aliens, and more. Dr. Steven's profile. Classical Traditions in Science Fiction, ed. by Brett Rogers and Benjamin Stevens. Dr. Steven's book recommendations: The Just City/Thessaly Trilogy by Jo Walton Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
  1. Writer's History #3 – Dr. Benjamin Stevens Interview
  2. #28 – Children's Sci-Fi in the New Wave
  3. #27 – Feminist Science Fiction
  4. Writer's History #2 – Kira Leigh Interview
  5. #26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire

For my first interview on the show, I spoke to Max Hawthorne, author of the paleo-fiction thriller, Kronos Rising, about his writing and his experiences with science fiction as a whole.

Max’s website.
Max’s peer-reviewed scientific paper on Plesiosaurs.

Max’s book recommendations:
The Bug Wars by Robert Asprin
Hiero’s Journey by Sterling Lanier

Check out this episode!

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